Book Reviews

Natural Resources Conservation Law

Natural resources account for a fifth of the wealth of developing nations. It is only recent times that we have realised that indicators of development like GDP do not account for the depletion of natural resources; in fact they tend to promote it because GDP treats both the production of goods and services and the value of asset liquidation as part of the product of a nation.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was perhaps one of the pioneering assessments where the varieties of goods and services were marked down under clear categories: provisioning, protective, supporting and cultural services. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB: is drawing attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity to highlight the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. Thus, evaluating the worth of intact ecosystems in monetary terms has also enabled us to understand clearly the importance of preservation and conservation of the environment.

Having some kind of rules regarding the (ab)use of natural resources is not new to us at all. Even in ancient Indian scriptures, there are numerous references, even exhortations, about how nature and natural resources must be revered and conserved. These are a part of everyday life of Indians. Time and population growth have resulted in the weakening of these strictures and a variety of statutory laws have taken their place. The many aspects about protection and conservation of resources have resulted in a large number of pieces of legislation enacted over the years focusing on specific aspects of the environment – such as protection of forest resources, controlling trade in wildlife and so on, at various levels – national and international – resulting in overlapping legal regimes. Hence, to bring them all together in a single volume and analyse them and also provide various perspectives on management is no mean task. This has been achieved to a large extent by Dr Sairam Bhat of the NLSIU in “Natural Resources Conservation Law”.

The volume is divided into ten chapters with the introductory chapter setting the stage by talking about property rights and environmental justice apart from examining five year plans from the point of view of environmental conservation. This is not an aspect that many know about. It was only in the sixth five year plan that environment and development had an entire chapter to them; and it is the importance given in these five year plans to various aspects of the environment that has resulted in the creation of several environmental institutions and laws. The author rightly points out that ‘merely publishing an enactment in the official gazette and then presuming that everybody knows what the law is” is quite incorrect. Resources need to be spent to make people aware and the judiciary needs to play an important role in ensuring that immediate measures are taken especially against errant industries.

When we think of natural resources, our primary focus is on air, water, forests and land. Each of these is examined with respect to the legislation applicable as well as a discussion on some important aspects. For example, in the case of water, under water rights, customary rights, prescriptive rights and even inter-state disputes on sharing of water are discussed as are how rights are infringed upon, and how courts evaluate the problems and deliver judgements.

What makes this book different is that while the title makes one feel that it is likely to be a treatise on laws related to conservation, it is a reasonably inclusive decision on various aspects related to resource conservation ranging from what the resource signifies, the legislation(s) related to its protection and conservation, institutional arrangements for effecting this, judicial interventions and case studies as well as scientific studies of relevance. For example, in the case of air, there is information on air quality, air pollution (different aspects such as indoor air pollution, VOC, noise), important cases related to air pollution and even a study by TERI measuring the exposure of the average citizen to various pollutants during the course of his workday. The story of Chipko and the Narmada Bacho Andolan must be studied by all working in the field of natural resource conservation. While there is information on the key players such as CSE, Greenpeace, KSSF and WWF – to name a few, the role of the government, especially the MoEF, in developing and implementing various laws could have been elaborated because the governance factor, as pointed out in the book is quite crucial to resource conservation. Also missing from a coastal viewpoint is a discussion on the CRZ, especially about CRZ-I which deals with protection of sensitive coastal ecosystems.

In this era of globalization, it is fitting that there is also an elaboration of the evolution of environmental instruments at the global level too. The principles from the various UN Conferences, the different treaties such as Ramsar (wetlands), CITES, UNCLOS and the CBD are discussed but could have been detailed much more for they have significant role in resource conservation. Most treaties are framework conventions and hence difficult to enforce but they have definitely brought out an attitudinal change.

Laws regarding natural resources are constantly being updated – for example we have the CRZ 2011 replacing the CRZ 1991 while at the global level, new protocols and decisions are being added to some of the key international conventions on conservation of resources. In this digital age, it would have been good if there had been a list of websites (e.g. MoEF, CPCB, UNEP, CBD) which the readers could refer to obtain the latest information on different instruments, in India as well as globally. A stronger editing would have also ensured logical flow in certain areas and avoidance of repetition of sentences and simple errors (principal instead of principle). The index definitely must be updated thoroughly in the next edition because in such a volume, that is absolutely essential.

Natural Resources Conservation Law by Sairam Bhat Sage Publications, Rs 1100.


More by :  Dr. Ahana Lakshmi

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